Leadership by example

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Throw away those books and cassettes on inspirational leadership. Send those consultants packing. Know your job, set a good example for the people under you and put results over politics. That‘s all the charisma you‘ll really need to succeed.” -Dyan Machan


This really isn‘t anything new, is it? I mean, in any field of endeavor - military, science, business, and, yes, trucking - leading by example is pretty much the first and last rule of management. It‘s a principle as old as the history books - if not older.


Yet here we are, again mired in economic malaise brought on in large part by poor leadership in the business community - by investment banks, mortgage lenders, and numerous others whose executives aimed for big profits and stock prices while putting customers, shareholders, and employees at great risk.


Professor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University has some thoughts on the subject of business leadership, so I‘m going to let him share those with you.

Professor, the floor is yours:


“About three years ago I was taking some entrepreneurs visiting from Russia to Southeast Toyota‘s new auto processing center in Jacksonville, FL. This facility is very large, and the majority of Toyotas for the southeast come through this operation.


The general manager of the facility was giving us a tour, and we had to walk from one large building to another. Several times during this walk, the general manager stopped and picked up pieces of paper that he saw on the ground. Now, the facility was ultra clean, but this action spoke volumes about the manager‘s ability to lead by example. By this simple gesture, the general manager was saying, ‘I want this facility to be clean, and I am willing to do what is necessary to make this happen.‘


Many centuries ago I was working as an engineer for General Telephone in Tampa, FL. There was about to be a strike by the labor union, and they were asking for volunteers from among the management and engineering staff to learn how to climb poles and repair telephone lines. My boss was the first to volunteer, and this really showed me his leadership skills and his commitment to the business.


Examples like these demonstrate leadership not by words, but by actions. However, this can easily be taken too far.


We are currently working with an entrepreneur who was trying to show his staff that in these lean times, he was really going to step up to the plate. He decided to let the building maintenance service go and do the work himself. He truly felt that this action would motivate his staff by demonstrating his willingness to pitch in and help out.


For the last three months, he has gotten up every Saturday morning, driven to the office and spent the day doing the cleanup. He really felt that this was a great way to show the staff that these cuts were serious and that he was willing to do his share.


In this case, however, the entrepreneur had crossed the line from good leadership to questionable leadership. While some of his staff is aware of his efforts, most have remained unaware (until they read this column, that is). However, even if his entire staff does know that he has been doing all the physical work, from empting the trash to cleaning the bathrooms, it is not the image that a staff needs to have of their leader.


In this case, you should be careful not to cross the line. Leadership by example is such an important concept, but it can be taken too far.”


You can reach Professor Osteryoung by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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